Make the diaspora dream
For the typical African success story to change, Africans both in Africa and in the diaspora need to be able to dream of making it in Africa. For young Africans to dream of a future in Africa, we have to better promote the image we want to see of ourselves. The continent is culturally powerful, and when I talk about culture, I mean contemporary culture. Traditional perceptions of Africa – Moroccan mint teas and all – do not need me to promote them. Tradition will live, but my message is that there is life in contemporary Africa too.
The diaspora should be looking at the continent as a powerful cultural hub and, being abroad, they are in a position to spread the contemporary culture that we are creating across Africa. This is what will make the diaspora dream of Africa again. Many in the Moroccan diaspora still look at Moroccans in Morocco like they’re the underdeveloped guys. The same probably applies across Africa’s countries and their respective diasporas.
We have to convince Africans in Africa, and Africans in the diaspora, that things are happening in Africa. We have to believe in it ourselves, before talking to westerners.
It’s harder for us Moroccans than it is for, say, Nigerians to spread our culture across the world. The influence and reach of French speakers is not the same as those with an English-speaking heritage. Nonetheless, my dream is not solely about connecting Africa to the world, it’s primarily about reconnecting Africans with each other. My dream is to reconnect North Africa with our Sub-Saharan brothers and sisters. I am tired of seeing this separation across the Sahara, economically and culturally. There are those who are from north Africa who don’t accept or embrace the fact that they are African, as if Casablanca play in the UEFA Champions League…
Music is not my goal; it’s my vehicle
When I launched my music career 11 years ago I never wanted to go from Morocco straight to France, nor did I want to turn straight to the Middle East (despite at the time everyone telling me to do so). Instead, I decided to go to Dakar in Senegal first. At the time, Dakar was one of the biggest urban cultural hotspots in the French-speaking world. I went there with my music, someone heard it, sent my track to DJ Edu at the BBC back in 2005, and this is how everything really kicked off.
More than a decade later, I’m humbled by the fact that people like my music, but music is not my goal, it’s my vehicle. My goal is simple. I’m absolutely crazy in love with my country, Morocco. Although we have been Arabised, we are north African. We have cultural and religious similarities with the Middle East, but our daily lives are closer to that of the Senegalese, Mauritanians, Malians or Ghanaians and this is reflected in my music.
When I released my first track, I got an email from George Clinton’s nephew. He told me that he’d heard my music and he could definitely feel the Africa in it… but there was something else, and he couldn’t explain what it was. I said, maybe it’s north Africa.
African + Arabian = Afrobian.
And with that the name for the genre was born.
It was important for me to create a new genre as I’m not going to try to pigeonhole my music into pre-existing genres if it doesn’t fit there. I’m not going to say ‘well, it’s kind of a mix of RnB, jazz, and soul…’ We didn’t create RnB, jazz, or soul. I’m trying to be authentic and aesthetic. Alhamdulillah, people now understand that. That’s why I’ve created a genre of my own that I can embrace, that Africans can embrace, and that people in the diaspora can embrace and proudly share with their non-African friends. I’m trying to do music that respects who we are, but at the same time, can please anyone’s ears. I want afrobian music to be to Morocco what sushi is to Japan, and what capoeira is to Brazil – other people can try and imitate, but no one can do it quite like someone from that region.
Do it for Africa from Africa
When I win international awards like MTV Awards and AFRIMA Awards it’s not for me; it’s for young people in my country to see that I’m from Taroudant, from a non-English-speaking country, I sing in my local language, I worked hard, and I made it happen, and I did it being proudly 100% Moroccan and being proudly 100% African. Most of all, I did it from Morocco. Not Paris, not London, not New York. Morocco.
If I can make it happen independently, anyone else can do it. You don’t need to dream of leaving to live in Paris. I didn’t do this. For Moroccans, we are made to believe that the only outlet we have to gain international recognition is through Paris.
I hope I have shown that there is another way because I did it by looking south to my brothers across Africa, rather than looking north to Europe.
When I released my album here in Morocco and said that I’m going to Senegal, my guys said ‘you are you crazy. I know the head of Universal Records in Paris. I know one rule about life and that is that you take the easy path.’ I said, no, I’ll take the path that’s right for me, even if it’s the harder path. The easy road was paved by someone else. I wanted to pave my own road. I went straight to Senegal, and never looked back.
Instead of saving money to beg for visas to Europe or the USA, why not save and visit your neighbours in Africa? We have to learn to understand each other more, and be proud of our own cultural specifities, and that involves going out there to meet our African brothers, and also inviting our fellow Africans to visit us in Morocco.
I’ve already had some well-known names in music from Africa and the US come to Morocco to work on projects with me here, in my country and to see my village. To have people come to visit me from all over the world in my Moroccan paradise is part of my African dream. I don’t want to go to Paris to make my music. Afrobian is from Morocco, so you should come to experience it in its home.
Home is home. My grandparents, my uncles, my cousins, are still living in the village I grew up in. Here in my village, we are human beings. We are not robots like in some of the cities of Europe where you don’t even know or talk to your neighbour, and your life is rules, taxes, and boxes. Sometimes it’s hard here. Sure. But it’s okay in the end. Here, everybody’s involved. We have a joke that in Morocco we don’t need the police because, in reality, everybody is a policeman! Here, we don’t feel the need to control everything; some things we just let go, maybe because there is that spirituality from believing in something higher than humans. This is the difference and this is why, despite being able to move and live anywhere in the world, I chose to stay in Morocco.
Outsiders may say that my continent is messed up, but it’s my home, and from here I will still conquer the world.
Founder and creative director of Ijinle Africa
The African story is evolving and is slowly being emancipated from the stereotypes and perceptions that have been a part of what has held it back over the years. However, a lot of work remains to be done to address the paradigm shift that needs to take place, and the African diaspora has a strategic role to play in this process.
There is value in Africans leaving the continent to attain their dreams elsewhere, particularly if they move to an environment that enables their professional and personal development over the short and long term. However, the story shouldn’t end there. Africans in the diaspora are in a unique position to contribute to the growth and development of their countries and the continent as a whole.
I started IJINLE AFRICA as a way to creatively curate the voices of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora as well as friends of the continent, and tell stories that are different from the mass generalisations that are frequently portrayed in the media. I am proud to say that the stories we share are shaped largely by the voices of Africans who recognise their talents and skills as way to drive success on the continent.
We need to change the way we see ourselves and reinforce positive images of our growth and success. We need more passionate individuals of African descent like Ahmed Soultan who are absolutely crazy in love with their countries to celebrate Africa.
Olusheyi Lawoyin is the creative director of IJINLE AFRICA. A self described global citizen, ‘Sheyi has traveled, worked and lived in over thirty countries and counting, but she has a true passion for all things African. An American of Nigerian descent, ‘Sheyi’s passion for, and interest in Africa stems from her formative years spent in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, and a substantial amount of time spent living and traveling throughout most of southern and eastern Africa. Her experiences exposed her to a dearth of well rounded information that many had about the continent and the prevailing negative perceptions that clouded the way people thought about Africa and Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. A desire to tell stories that actually celebrate the African continent and challenge the status quo led her to develop the IJINLE AFRICA portal.